Hearing Examines VA’s scheduling challenges

Washington, D.C. –  Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Chair of the House Republican Conference, praised Representative Will Hurd (R-TX), Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subcommittee on Information Technology, for holding a hearing that highlighted the need for the VA to modernize its scheduling system.

McMorris Rodgers’ bipartisan bill, H.R. 4352, the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, requires the VA to use existing technology to better serve Veterans: “This is technology that is available to patients across the country—it’s just common sense to make it available to Veterans.”

“If the VA is unable to fulfill the promise President Lincoln made to ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle,’ then we must encourage the VA to try something different, and equip them to succeed,” McMorris Rodgers said in a written statement. “Self-scheduling is only one example of the endless creative and innovative ideas at our disposal. The Faster Care for Veterans Act is about empowering veterans who have sacrificed so much in defense of our nation, sooner rather than later, in a cost effective manner.”

On January 8, McMorris Rodgers and Democrat Seth Moulton (MA-06) introduced the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016 (H.R. 4352) to empower veterans while giving VA employees more tools to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

“Our veterans deserve the best health care in the world,” said Moulton. “Self-scheduling technologies have been widely successful in the private sector at reducing the number of missed or canceled appointments, saving our health system money, and creating a better experience for patients and doctors. This bipartisan bill would utilize existing technology to improve access to VA health care. We owe it to our veterans to provide access to high-quality care. If private patients have access to this successful technology, veterans should, too. I’m grateful to Congressman Hurd for his support and for scheduling a committee hearing for the bill.”

Veterans continue to tell McMorris Rodgers that one of the biggest challenges they face at the VA is simply getting an appointment.

Cathy McMorris Rodgers statement for the record:

Thank you Chairman Hurd, and Ranking Member Kelly, for allowing me to participate in today’s hearing on this important topic.

Without a doubt, we were all shocked and horrified when the news broke several years ago that some VA employees were manipulating wait times and keeping secret waiting lists for veterans seeking appointments with the VA. 

The result was that veterans who desperately needed care faced unacceptably long wait times, poor treatment, and failed customer service at VA facilities across the country.  Several even died while waiting for appointments. But instead of steadily shorter wait times, the number of veterans waiting 30 days or more for medical care has increased – up 50 percent last year. That’s simply not acceptable.

The solution will require a fundamental shift in the culture and day-to-day management at the VA.

I’ve heard from a number of veterans in Washington State, and here’s what I can tell you: They want to be empowered – empowered to make their own health care decisions, while giving VA employees more tools to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

To help with this, Congressman Moulton and I have introduced H.R. 4352, the Faster Care for Veterans Act, which would require the VA to conduct a pilot program using existing, commercially-available online patient self-scheduling capability that allows patients to schedule, confirm, and modify appointments in real-time. That means veterans could schedule appointments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and even backfill open appointments that had been previously scheduled but then cancelled. 

For 15 years now, the VA has attempted to improve its scheduling processes. Despite millions of taxpayer dollars invested in these experiments, they essentially started over in 2010. Now, the VA plans to spend an additional $624 million over the next five years to develop a new scheduling system, the utility of which is unclear at best.

If the VA is unable to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to “care for him who shall have borne the battle,” then we must encourage the VA to try something different, and equip them to succeed.

Self-scheduling is only one example of the endless creative and innovative ideas at our disposal.

The Faster Care for Veterans Act is about empowering veterans who have sacrificed so much in defense of our nation, sooner rather than later, in a cost effective manner. This bill is pro-veteran and pro-transparency.  With this bill, we are demonstrating to the VA that innovative technology — already being used in doctors’ offices across the country — can also work for them to: Cut back on the red tape; Stay within budget; and get our veterans the care they’ve earned and need.

I want to thank Congressman Moulton for partnering with me on this effort, and Chairman Hurd for cosponsoring our bill.   

I look forward to hearing how and when the VA plans to bring its scheduling system into the 21st Century so that veterans get the care they need, when they need it.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing and allowing me to join you today.  I yield back the balance of my time.

 

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